Brad Bowling
July 21, 2010
Photos By: Francis Butler Peach, State Powerhouse

Imagine the disappointment of buying a supercharged 2005 Saleen S-281 to campaign on the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series circuit, only to find that it won't be homologated for that series. We guess the only thing worse would be learning that your $150,000 Ford GT supercar won't be competing in the American Le Mans Series, either.

Meet the guys at Kinetic Speed Shop, who found themselves with a surplus of speed last year when those sanctioning bodies refused to assign classes to their two project cars. We won't delve into the politics of homologation in this article; let's just say KSS had to reconsider reconsider its plans for the Saleen and GT, and that's where our story really starts.

Being 'stuck' with a new Saleen is not in itself a bad thing, of course. The new-for-2005 S179 Mustang design sent Steve Saleen and his numerous competitors back to their CAD/CAM programs to take advantage of the car's retro- 60s styling. Saleen's designers combined the Mustang GT's overall pleasing shape with the predatory looks of the company's 200-mph S7 - a two-seat rocket so revered by speed freaks that the name is often mentioned in the same breath as Ferrari, Lamborghini and jaguar. The 05 S-281's taillight panel, wing, rear valance and ducts made it a younger brother to the S7.

Saleen extended the S-281's tail section, which lengthened the car's profile and addressed the Mustang's weak rear design by recessing the 1960s-style taillamps. Blacking out the taillamp panel enhanced the aggressive look. The flat rear wing, triangular quarter-window inserts, deleted foglamps, functional hood vents and snarling face further distinguished the Saleen from the less-expensive Mustang GT.

As had been the company's habit since its founding in 1984, Saleen leapfrogged the stock Mustang's wheel and tire package, installing 20x9-inch alloys similar to the S7 rims and 275/35R20 Pirelli PZero Rosso ultra-performance radials.

Powering the base S-281 was Ford's aluminum- block 4.6-liter three-valve v-8, which Saleen rated at 325 horsepower - higher than Ford's advertised 300 due to some programming mods and better breathing equipment. Installing an aluminum Saleen Series vI integrated twin-screw supercharger with two-stage water-to-air intercooler created the S/C model, which produced 400 ponies at the crankshaft. Both engines were available with standard manual five-speed transmissions (3.55:1 rear axle) or five-speed automatics (3.31:1 rear axle). Racecraft suspension components lowered and stiffened the chassis, giving the S-281 Corvette-killing performance. Interiors benefited from traditional Saleen upgrades, such as standard sport seats, race-inspired metal pedal covers and a short-throw shift lever. All this high-tech, high-performance equipment didn't come cheap, however. Even in the premium marketplace, eyes opened wide at seeing Saleen's entry-level v-8 Mustang going for $39,043 and the S/C wearing a $46,134 price tag. Test drives made believers out of doubters, though.

All early 2005 S-281s were built without the supercharger package. The S/C was not introduced until sometime around car number 500, which means that any earlier supercharged coupes or convertibles were retrofitted by dealers or speed shops.

When Niclas "Nic" jonsson and Russell Smith formed Kinetic Speed Shop last April, their intent was to develop a team of professionals that could deliver cost-effective products and services to the motorsports industry. The partners purchased a 42,000-square-foot facility in Buford, GA, only 15 minutes away from the world-class Road Atlanta facility. A true "onestop shop," KSS can address every aspect of competition, from building a car with its on-site fabrication, composite, machine and engine shops to marketing, public relations, merchandising and team website designs.

Before founding KSS, jonsson was known primarily for racing exotic sports cars such as the Porsche GT3 and a Riley prototype, but jonsson and Smith wanted their company to aggressively pursue products and services for domestic brands as well. Tim Olsen was hired to be the resident Ford expert and immediately put to work on his first task. (Olsen had previously worked on john Maffucci's land speed record Cobra that's discussed in this month's "In the Spotlight" - Ed.)

"We wanted to show off our talents at SEMA," Olsen said, "but we only had a few months to get a project together."

In june of '05 KSS bought a Torch Red Saleen from Ciener Woods Ford in Kernersville, NC. It was a very early '05, number 05-0016, which wasn't built by the factory as an S/C, but the dealership installed the blower and S/C hood. We turned it into a road course race car in time for the vegas show. All along, our intention was to race it in the Rolex series, but that fell through.

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It was during the 2005 SEMA mega-show that we were first stunned by that crazy Dark Cloisonne blue paint scheme. In its road racing guise it wore a beautiful set of BBS wheels and a foothigh rear wing. We spent a lot of time studying it, because it and the matching GT were displayed with other Ford products right next to one of the Modified Mustangs magazine stands.

KSS parked the blue coupe in its building after SEMA, where it briefly collected dust. It must be tough having a supercharged Saleen sitting around the shop unused, because it weighed on Olsen's mind.

"I decided to turn it into a drag car," Olsen told us. "That made a lot of sense, because Mustangs tend to dominate that sport, and we wanted something that would have a high pro- file among fans."

Now, this is normally the part of a Modified Mustangs article where we would start running through a long list of gee-whiz engine parts made from unobtanium that the car's owner installed. You are probably imagining the KSS S-281 has some exotic small-block pumped out to 427 cubic inches and a complex intake system developed by NASA's top Space Shuttle engineers - all costing more money than the average American makes in a year. Wrong! The truth of the matter is that the KSS Saleen 4.6- liter v-8 has zero modifications, just an expert tune by Diablosport in Del Ray, FL, that put the rear-wheel horsepower output at 490 and torque at 500.

A Pro Turbo Systems intercooler cell, which mounts right next to the KSS racing fuel cell in the trunk, made for a cooler charge, and MAC exhaust headers, a Bassani x-pipe and Borla muffl ers freed up the flow to the back of the car. An Optima battery was relocated to the trunk. KSS's own driveshaft and transmission crossmember were designed to be lightweight and adaptable to the Art Carr C-4 automatic that KSS swapped for the Saleen's manual five-speed. Weldon supplied fuel pumps and pressure regulators, which work well with the KSS-designed fuel cell.

BMR Fabrication worked with KSS to put together a suspension package that improved on the Ford/Saleen components for drag racing purposes. Ronnie Santhuff, of Santhuff Shocks & Struts in Sinton, Texas, built the front MacPherson units. The rear double-adjustable shocks came from variShock in Sacramento, Calif. BMR supplied the rear springs for the stock Ford three-link suspension.

The disc brakes are Aerospace pieces all around, hidden by Weld wheels (15x3.5 on front, 15x10 on back) and Mickey Thompson tires (15x3.5 in front, 15x10.5 in back).

KSS gutted the Saleen's interior, which now houses only a KSS 12-point rollcage, a complete inventory of AutoMeter gauges, an aluminum Kirkey Racing Fabrication seat and Schroth five-point seatbelts. Only the stock Ford dashpad remains, and a Ford GT gave up its steering wheel so this S-281 could have a touch of the exotic.

All of this work was done by the dedicated KSS crew just in time to debut the car at the 2006 Peach State Nationals/Fun Ford Weekend at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga., in the Mod Comp class. With any race team, construction and tuning often continue even as the car is being loaded into the trailer. In this case, work continued in the paddock of the dragstrip and didn't stop until the early hours of the first morning.

Veteran racer victor Downs, who has competed and finished in the top 10 in the National Mustang Racers Association Drag Racing Series for the past two years, was eager to see how fast the blue Saleen could cover the quarter- mile.

"Things weren't looking too good at first," Downs remembered. "We broke the transmission on a preliminary run and it took us a while to put in our spare C-4 automatic. Once we made that change we felt confident it would reliably turn some fast times."

The team made last call for qualifying on Saturday. On its first run against the clock, Downs pushed the coupe to a 10.713-second run at 124.49 miles an hour, setting a record for an unmodified Saleen three-valve engine. (A few weeks later, Downs would chop that time to 10.58 seconds at 126.52 during a Summit Racing event at Atlanta Dragway.)

"The weekend went better than I thought it would," he said. "This Saleen is better than anything I've ever driven! It sticks very well and, as you can see, is also extremely powerful." With a successful debut behind them, the KSS crew is ready to take its Mustang program to bigger and better things.

"Our first year out, we are trying to dial in a brand new car and create more recognition for our shop," Olsen told us. "We have great support from Diablosport and BMR Fabrication. We hope to go national with this campaign in 2007 and eventually win a championship."

Stock block, stock heads, stock computer... just think how far they'll go if they ever get started with the mods!

Interior/Exterior
Kinetic Speed Shop's 2005 Saleen Drag Car

Chassis
KSS 12-point rollcage

Exterior
Stock Saleen S-281 S/C

Interior
Aluminum Kirkey Racing Fabrication seats; Schroth five-point seatbelts; AutoMeter gauges; Ford GT steering wheel

Suspension
Santhuff Shocks and MacPherson Struts; variShock rear double-adjustable shocks; original Ford three-link rear suspension; Aerospace disc brakes

Wheels And Tires
Weld wheels (15" x 3.5" on front, 15" x 10" on back); Mickey Thompson tires (15" x 3.5" skinnies in front, 15" x 10.5" in back)

Specifications
Kinetic Speed Shop's 2005 Saleen Drag Car

Engine
4.6-liter SOHC v-8

Engine Modifications
Saleen twin-screw supercharger; Diablosport Predator and Mafia

Driveline
Art Carr C-4 automatic transmission; KSS driveshaft

Numbers
490 RWHP, 500 RWTQ Best run: 10.58 @ 126.52